I never set out to spend hours pedalling smoggy suburban arterials.
After landing a job at distant York University, I figured it was time to swap my bike for a Metropass.
On my first trip, I decided to save time by cycling to the Bloor-Danforth subway line. Soon I discovered it was even faster to pedal a little further to the Spadina line.
I quickly learned that “the better way” was to cycle the entire 30-kilometre round trip. Winter snow turned out to be no obstacle, since major roads are kept open with relentless ploughing and salt.
My attitude changed one night this winter. Racing down one of Keele’s rolling hills, I suddenly noticed a large pothole surrounded by loose chunks of asphalt.
Caught between moving vehicles on my left and a snowbank on my right, I took a dive. I escaped with minor injuries. My spill could have been prevented had a working bike lane provided space to dodge the pothole.
Toronto’s Bike Plan aims to make cycling on major arterials safer, but nine years into the initiative, the few lanes we do get in the burbs are on minor collectors or in parks.
Reasoning that it would be “difficult” to allocate space to cyclists on major arterials and “maintain traffic service levels,” the Bike Plan instead emphasizes detouring cyclists to minor arterials.
Although major arterials rack up the vast majority of collisions between cyclists and motorists – 940 were recorded citywide in the first 9 months of 2007 – bike lanes in the burbs end up on slower collectors, where they won’t inconvenience drivers.
“How do you like the new bike lanes to York University?” asked a well-meaning transportation official upon learning I work there.
Huh? Bike lanes?
Turns out he’s talking about Sentinel Road. A city report tellingly notes that public consultation wasn’t necessary, given that “the [Sentinel] lanes would have no impact on traffic.”
Future cycling routes to York follow trails along the Bradford railway line, Black Creek and the Finch hydro corridor, where cyclists will only inconvenience raccoons and skunks.
Darren Stehr of Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (ARC) thinks trails are neat, but “recreational trails are just that – recreational.
“Cyclists are the same as everyone else. They have to go to work, they have to go shopping. Why ghettoize them out in the bush?”
Even if these paths were lighted, cleared of snow and not shared with dog walkers, they’re not practical for everyday trips.
Surrendering strategic arteries to motor vehicles sidelines bikes to the sidewalk or to storage.
The new chair of the cycling committee, Scarborough councillor Adrian Heaps, is no stranger to long-distance bike commutes. He often rides from Scarberia to City Hall.
Heaps says politicians are now ready to make the difficult tradeoffs.
“Any major arterial is more than capable of accommodating a bike lane,” he says.
Convincing other politicians to buy in, even those who ride, is another matter. Councillor Anthony Perruzza, for example, hopes for bike lane improvements, particularly along Finch. He’s tried to ride there, but says it’s too “scary.” But, he adds, “There’s just no space for bikes unless we find a way to widen Finch.”
Adding asphalt runs counter to the goal of transforming suburban arterials from drag strips into pedestrian-friendly main streets.
Riding past the busy intersection of Keele and Finch, I regularly pass a white ghost bike chained to a traffic light standard by cycling advocates to commemorate the death of 16-year-old Bianca Gogel, who was killed by a turning tractor-trailer.
I plan to keep pedalling – and hoping the city improves my odds of avoiding such a fate.